Borrowing a Big Idea from Improv Comedy to Master Life

By Dr. John Schinnerer

One of the best ways to heal from pain and deal with the vicissitudes of life is laughter.  Over the years, I have made a conscious decision to be quicker to laugh; to be more open to poking fun at my self and to seeing the humor that is all around me.  And research has shown the benefits to doing so are massive – less depression, less anxiety, better cardiovascular health, higher quality relationships and more satisfaction with life.

One of the ways I’ve cultivated more laughter is by going to see live improv comedy as often as I am able. I’ve been to see Whose Line is It Anyway live several times. I go to stand up comedy clubs. I seek out top of the line comedians like Kevin Hart, Christopher Titus, Louis C.K. Sarah Silverman and more. I’ll even go with my teenage children to  watch improv at their high school.  The last time I went, I was really amazed how often I laughed at the teenagers – teens who had little comedic training or experience.  And this made me wonder, “How do improv actors build on other actors’ lines to create laughter?”

The answer is that improv relies on building upon whatever the last person who spoke provides you.

Imagine you are on stage performing improv comedy: It is your turn to speak next in a ridiculous scene where you are at a dentist trying to numb up a patient with a shot of novocaine. The patient is nervously waiting for the shot and asks you how often you use the laughing gas. For improv to be successful and funny, you must build on that premise. You don’t question it. You don’t negate any part of the scene. You build upon it. So, one possibility is to tell the patient that you had a large dose of laughing gas that morning and you begin to act drunk; shooting the novocaine into your own arm, and then your leg, and then you have a numb arm and leg (a la the classic Carol Burnett sketch).  The main rule is that you build upon what came before.

This is seen in daily language as “Yes, and.”

As in…

“Yes, I hear you, AND have you tried this?”

“Yes, I would like to go to the movies, AND I’d like to see a comedy.”

This approach draws other people closer to you, gets you engaged in life and generates stories which you can share with others, particularly when you say yes to fun activities with friends and family that lay just on the other side of your comfort zone.

On the other hand, one of the thoughts that fuels depression and pessimism is ‘Yea, but…” I hear this frequently with certain clients who are anxious, angry or depressed. For example…

“Yea, but I’ve tried all those things.”

“Yea, but that will never work for me.”

“Yea, but I could never do that.”

“Yea, but that’s too much work.”

As I’m teaching certain clients proven tools that could alleviate their suffering, they are ‘yea, butting’ me. This error in thinking prevents people from actually trying new tools which could improve their lives. It shuts down the flow of ideas. It kills conversations. And it keeps people safely in their comfort zone. Unfortunately, real personal growth only happens outside of the comfort zone.

Here are some examples of better ways to reframe these ‘Yea, but…’ statements:

“Yes, I tried that before. And perhaps I didn’t grasp it entirely. I’m going to try it again!”

“I haven’t had much success with that. And I know people don’t always learn on the first try. I’m open to another attempt.”

“I haven’t done that in the past.  However, what I’ve done in the past hasn’t worked so well for me. Let me try something different. I’ll give it a shot!”

“It seems like that will take some work. And no change has ever come without effort and perseverance. I’ll try it!”

In the 2008 comedy, Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl, an introverted, pessimistic single guy with a dead end loan officer job (the ‘Yea, but’ guy).  Carl hides from life and friends in his apartment until he attends a personal growth seminar with a ‘Yes Guru,’ Terrance. Carl makes a reluctant ‘covenant’ with Terrance to say ‘Yes’ at every opportunity. And this simple change to ‘Yes, and’ transforms his life. Carl has a series of adventures which make his life more interesting and fulfilling – even when the story isn’t altogether pleasant. When life hands you an invitation, accept the invitation.

Life is all about the story. Today’s story may be good or it may be bad. Regardless, it’s an interesting, emotionally-compelling story to share with those you love.  And stories are the main way in which we connect with others. And connection is key.

So try saying ‘Yes, and’ to life. Pay attention to what you say for a week. When you hear ‘Yea, but’ change it to ‘Yes, and’. It takes practice. It will push you out of your comfort zone. This one tiny change has lead to impressive improvement in the lives of many of my clients. Try ‘Yes, and’ for yourself for one week. Be a Yes Man (or a Yes Woman). Your future self will thank you for it down the road as you will be significantly more satisfied and happier with life.

 

When Coaches Rage: Coaches Who Care More About Opinions of Others More Likely to Explode in Anger

Dr. John Schinnerer

This doesn’t have to do with positive psychology. But as a soccer coach of 10 years, this is near and dear to my heart…

I was recently approached by a major TV network to do a reality show involving coaches with severe anger problems. While this seems to be good for ratings, it does not bode well for the well-being of the coaches involved in the two week project. First, little change in long-term emotional behavior will occur in two weeks. Second, close proximity to other angry people will typically serve to reinforce outbursts of ire. Simply dropping an anger management expert into the mix is unlikely to have any real effect on anyone’s behavior. Perhaps the show can be reworked so the coaches can benefit along with the network.

 

Being involved in anger management, sports psychology and misbehavior coaches, it was with great interest that I came across this recent research showing that the more a coach pays attention to the opinions of others, the more likely he or she is to react with anger….

 

A minor league baseball coach punches his assistant coach in the face for being questioning his on-field call. A basketball coach horse collars his own player as runs by in the middle of the game. A hockey coach screams insults at his goalie for letting in the game clinching goal.

 

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Angry coaches care more about others’ opinions of them

Coaches who focus more on internal values, their own high standards tend to be less captivated by the opinions of others and are significantly better at controlling feelings of rage and frustration, compared to coaches who focus intently on others’ opinions of their performance.

 

This means that the anger of coaches, and to an extent all of us, can be partially explained by being overly concerned with what others think, how others perceive us, according to new research the University of Leeds and Northumbria University.

 

The study found coaches who stay focused on their own internal values and standards are less interested in the opinions of others and are significantly better at managing anger than those who are acutely aware of others’ opinions (think the sports pundits on ESPN).

 

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What are we teaching our children with the anger of youth coaches?

Dr Andrew Hill, lecturer in sports and exercise science in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, stated, “Outbursts of anger from coaches are a familiar feature of many sports at many different levels — from Alan Pardew’s headbutt to a recent attack by a coach on a linesman in an Under-14 rugby match. This isn’t good for anybody. You want a calm and analytic mind on the sidelines, but we found that some features of personality may make this more difficult.”

 

The researchers questioned 238 coaches across a wide range of sports including football, rugby, hockey, baseball, swimming and basketball. Most of the coaches were involved in amateur sport and their average age was 24.

 

The results show that coaches with “high personal standards”, meaning that they set their own high standards and focused less on other people’s evaluations of their performance, were better at managing their emotions. They showed more ability to reinterpret negative feelings and see situations in a more positive, prosocial manner.

 

On the other hand, coaches who placed more weight on perceived criticism from others were driven by a fear of making mistakes. They had less ability to manage their emotions and were more at risk of exploding in anger (and possibly uncontrollable rage).

 

Dr. Hill reported, “Those who believe others expect them to be perfect appear to have more difficulty controlling their emotions. As a consequence, they will be more prone to emotional outbursts.”

 

Co-author Dr. Paul Davis, Senior Lecturer in Sport at Northumbria University, said: “The pursuit of perfect performance drives some coaches, but the dynamic nature of sport sets them up to experience intense emotions when their standards are not met. Moreover, emotions are contagious; a coach who is unable to regulate their own anger may actually undermine an athlete’s performance. In a worst case scenario, a coach who has limited capacity to regulate their emotions is putting themselves in a position where they may end up doing the one thing they really want to avoid.”

 

As we gain more awareness of what good coaching entails, it is my fervent hope that coaches will begin to take responsibility for their own emotional states and work diligently to manage their emotions in a constructive manner whereby the needs of the players, the needs of the team and the pursuit of winning are balanced with awareness and intention.

Let’s keep trying. We can do better.

 

Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew P. Hill, Paul A. Davis. Perfectionism and emotion regulation in coaches: A test of the 2 × 2 model of dispositional perfectionismMotivation and Emotion, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11031-014-9404-7

Mindfulness Boosts Attention in Children, New Study

Mindfulness Increases Attention Skills in Children

October 13, 2013

A brief mindfulness training program improves children’s ability to tune out distractions and focus better.

 

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Mindfulness Boosts Attentional Skills in Children Aged 10-11

The study was performed by University of Cambridge researchers, Dominic Crehan and Dr. Michelle Ellefson. Results were reported in September of 2013 at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.

Dominic stated, “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”

 

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Mindfulness Linked to Better Attention and Focus in Children

Thirty children (girls and boys aged 10 – 11 years old) participated in mindfulness training during the school day. There were 2 groups trained at separate times to allow the researchers to compare the groups and measure the effects of the training.

Participants’ levels of mindfulness  and attentional skills were measured before immediately following training and three months after the training. This way  changes in attention skills were tracked over time.

The results showed that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the training in mindfulness.

Dominic stated, “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”

Leading you down the path to happiness,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar Inside Out (due out June 2015)
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com 
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Happiness blog:
http://HowICanBeHappy.com
Twitter: @johnschin

 

 

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by British Psychological Society (BPS), via AlphaGalileo.

British Psychological Society (BPS) (2013, September 5). Mindfulness training improves attention in children.

Mental Health Issues Reduced in Teens 21-36% With 3 Hours Training In Schools

Three Hours Is Enough to Help Prevent Mental Health Issues in Teens

Dr. John Schinnerer

Oct. 4, 2013

One in four 8 to 15 year olds have struggled with a mental health problem in the past year. Disorders, such as anxiety, depression and ADHD, are linked to a variety of negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, suicidal behaviors, cutting and violence towards others.

 

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Mental Health in Teens Must Be a Priority for the World

Now for the good news…researchers in Britain have found that 2 brief 90 minute group therapy sessions reduced the incidence of …

  • depression by 21%
  • anxiety by 33%
  • conduct problems in ADHD youth by 36%

 

The study was led by Dr. Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal and found that teacher led groups discussing mental health were quite effective. Teachers were trained to deliver interventions to high risk students  and the outcomes were compared with students in other schools which did not receive the same training (the control group). The two 90-minute sessions taught students cognitive-behavioral tools for managing their thoughts, emotions and personality type. The sessions included real life “scenarios” shared by high risk youths within their small groups. The groups talked about thoughts, emotions and actions within the context of their particular type of personality. For example, situational triggers for anger, sadness or anxiety were shared with the guidance of the teacher. Then productive ways to manage such triggers were taught and discussed.

 

According to Dr. Conrod, “Our study shows that teacher delivered interventions that target specific risk factors for mental health problems can be immensely effective at reducing the incidence of depression, anxiety and conduct disorders in the long term.”

 

Nineteen schools in Greater London were involved in the study, which included a control group of schools in which students did not receive any interventions. Students were evaluated for their risk of developing mental health or substance abuse problems using a well-known personality scale. The scale measures different personality factors that are known to be correlated strongly with behavioral issues. For instance, a person with high degree of impulsivity is five times more likely to demonstrate extreme conduct problems within the next 18 months. Key traits focused on included impulsivity, hopelessness, anxiety sensitivity and sensation seeking.

 

In the two years that followed the interventions, students completed questionnaires every six months that enabled the researchers to establish the development of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, conduct problems and suicidal thoughts. The effects were clinically significant. “The interventions were run by trained educational professionals, suggesting that this brief intervention can be both effective and sustainable when run within the school system,” Conrod said. “We are now leading similar studys in 32 high schools in Montreal to further test the efficacy of this kind of program.”

Educators interested in the program can visit the project’s website at http://www.co-venture.ca

To a better, happier world,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar Inside Out (due out June 2015)
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

For a free PDF copy of my award-winning self-help book Guide to Self, visit Guide to Self, Inc. and click on the book icon on the top left of the screen.

Source: Université de Montréal (2013, October 3). Three hours is enough to help prevent mental health issues in teens.

For Greater Happiness, Visit Your Mental Scrapbook

How Can I Be Happy? Use Your Memories With Intention

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self

According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we encounter roughly 20,000 individual moments per day. Each ‘moment’ lasts 1-3 seconds. When you recall any evocative memory — positive or negative – it is almost always linked to a recollection of a specific moment in time. While the mind has a penchant for event tagging (i.e., marking events as positive, negative or neutral), rarely does a neutral encounter carry any emotional weight and is quickly forgotten. Your memories are nearly always positive or negative. What’s more, the mind has evolved to overfocus on the negative – negative self-definitions, emotions, words, thoughts, memories, etc.  So tools to promote the positive are needed to counterbalance this negativity bias. In some instances, positive words or a sharing a cherished memory can forever improve one’s life.

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Mindfully call up positive memories to brighten your day

When Were You Last Happy?

Here is a brief demonstration for you…

Think about the last time you felt happy; I mean really, truly happy, even if only for a moment. I want you to imagine that scene in your mind’s eye right now. Was your chin up? Shoulders pulled slightly back? Was there a smile on your face? Who was with you? What were the surroundings? What were you wearing? Are there any smells you recall? Think about the situation in as much detail as you can.

Now, how does your body feel?

Thinking back upon happy times cultivates positive physiological responses and positive emotions. Your heart rate slows, you breathing deepens, your chin elevates slightly, shoulders are drawn back, a warmth develops in your chest, and you smile.

 

How Can I Be Happy? Create a Mental Scrapbook for Your Self

One proven exercise from positive psychology is the mental scrapbook exercise. How can I be happier? Create a mental scrapbook in your head of times when you were happy, proud, excited, and/or confident – recollections that involve a variety of positive emotional experiences. That way, when you want to access a particular positive feeling to enhance the emotional quality of the present moment, you simply have to pull up that photo in your mental scrapbook to bring about the emotion you want.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, I went in for an MRI scan on my hip for sciatica.  When I booked the appointment, the receptionist asked if I was claustrophobic. Without thinking, I replied, “No.”  Then I went in to get the MRI. I lay down on the table which began slowly sliding into the closed, narrow MRI tube. The tube was as wide as my shoulders. I could not move my arms except to fold my hands on my hips. The ceiling of the tube was two inches from my face. As I needed an MRI of my hip, I was slid all the way inside – head first.

To my surprise, my emotional mind went back to when I was 7 years old trapped in a mummy sleeping bag. And I began to panic. My heart began to race. My throat constricted. My chest tightened. While my emotional mind screamed at me to go Hulk and tear apart the machine which imprisoned me, my rational mind knew I had 20 minutes to spend in this tube. I I closed my eyes and reminded myself to breathe deeply. That helped a little. Then I forced myself to smile – a real Duchenne smile using the muscles around my eyes. That helped a little more. Next, I used the mental scrapbook exercise. I thought about the time I came face to face with an ancient sea turtle while snorkeling in Hawaii. I thought about playing with my boys on the beach. After calling those images to mind, I felt my body relax. I got through the 20 minute MRI without an incident.

Positive psychology coach John Schinnerer PhD
Face to face with a sea turtle!

How Can I Be Happy? Share Positive Memories with Others

A good friend of mine, Ebon Glenn, founder of the positive clothing line, AimHighESG, discovered a brilliant extension of the mental scrapbook exercise. Ebon discovered he could positively impact the moods of loved ones by sharing photos of family memories prior to a car ride, or a business meeting or a family dinner. The simple act of sharing memories of good times via photos served to lift his mood as well as the moods of others, thereby creating a positive emotional upward spiral.

Aim high tee shirts from Ebon Glenn
Aim High tee shirts

The Big Impact of Small Words

The extension of this is to share small, powerful words with those around you. For example…

‘I’m proud of you.’

‘I believe in you.’

‘You are a genuinely good person.’

For years, I wondered whether such small phrases could positively impact people. I frequently have clients come in who are depressed, anxious, overwhelmed or angry. When we get to the topic of implementing positive changes in their lives, I make a point of to slow things down, look them square in the eye and I tell them, ‘Listen, I believe in you. I believe you can do this.’ After all, what comes first, you believing in yourself or someone else believing in you? Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as someone believes.

Do your thoughts affect you? Absolutely. Do your memories impact the emotional quality of your life? Definitely. And you can learn to manage which thoughts and which memories take up the most space in your mind…with practice.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley Summa Cum Laude with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 15 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at Amazon.com.  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

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Give me some fin, dude!